Farmers and Bystanders

Farmers and agricultural workers are at risk of health problems associated with pesticide exposure through acute and chronic occupational exposure. Workers and their families face additional risk due to residential and environmental exposure.According to the survey conducted by the European Federation of Agricultural workers (now EFFAT) on pesticide poisoning among its two million members, at least one in five people believed they had been made ill, poisoned, or adversely affected by pesticides. Problems of use represent 73% of incidents, particularly: handling concentrates (6%), application (39%), and preparation and mixing (28%). But the proportion of incidents following pesticide treatment is noticeable: washing after use (12%), operations involving contaminated equipment (7%), or containers after use (2%), working in previously treated areas (6%), making a total of 27%. In 46% of cases, poisoning involved medical intervention, either consultation or hospital visit.

There are developmental, learning and behavioral disabilities resulting from pesticide exposure have been revealed by numerous studies. (See: Health) Pesticides are also known to have neurological, psychiatric, developmental, reproductive, and effects. Moreover, many scientific analyses have shown that people exposed to certain pesticides have an increased risk of developing certain cancers. For example, a study reported by US National Cancer Institute in 2009 shows that people who use the weed killer imazethapyr have increased risks of bladder cancer and colon cancer.

A recent European Parliament Environment Committee (ENVI) study highlights the fact that farmers and their families are especially prone to illnesses caused by pesticides. Workers are potentially exposed to higher levels than the general population, and many scientific studies show harm to health related to occupational exposure. For example, several studies have found that the risk of childhood cancer is higher among children of agricultural workers and children living on farms. So having strict exclusion criteria for some hazardous pesticides will result in additional protection for farmers and their families.

See "Voices of Pesticides" and watch documentaries and movies on the affected farmers and agricultural workers.

Families living near farms could be in danger from the spraying of pesticides and might suffer the effects of pesticide exposure.  Environment Ministers of Member States have started publishing guides to inform their citizens on what to do in case of pesticide exposure. For example, in Denmark, if a neighbour farmer sprays pesticides, you can ask him to warn you before he starts spraying. You can also ask him which products he sprays and to which category of danger the products belong. In case of a dispute, you can announce the farmer to the police and go to court with a claim of civil right violation. If you have a suspition that he uses illegal pesticides or a high dose can contact the Center NaturErhvervstyrelsen, which is responible for pesticides controlling and the storage. Further information available (only in Danish) >>

Further Information:

Final report, Review of the published exposure data to pesticides for residents and bystanders, and for environmental risk assessment, EFSA 4 May 2017

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Pesticide Action Network Europe (PAN Europe) gratefully acknowledges the financial support from the European Union, European Commission, DG Environment, LIFE programme. Sole responsibility for this publication lies with the authors and the funders are not responsible for any use that may be made of the information contained herein.